It was a sad day in the film industry, as one of the most influential special effects makers Ray Harryhausen passed away in London. For many of us, Harryhausen will be remembered as the master of stop motion animation. Harryhausen was captivated as a young teen at stop motion animation when he and childhood friend, famed writer Ray Bradbury saw Willis O’Brien’s work in the 1933 movie King Kong.
From that moment on Harryhausen experimented with stop motion animation and began a legacy of special effects on films that dwarfed the imagination of cinema goers everywhere. From his first film as a producer in 1942’s How to Bridge a Gorge, to being chief animator in Tulips Shall Grow, he continued his detail and innovation in animation. He even received recognition from the very person who motivated him to pursue a career in effects, Willis O’Brien in the 1949 film Mighty Joe Young, which later received an Academy Award for best visual effects.
Harryhausen continued to make visual gold as he created monsters with his now famous stop motion animation technique called Dynamation in such films as The Beast from 20,000 Fathoms in 1953, It Came from Beneath the Sea in 1955, The 7th Voyage of Sinbad in 1958 and the iconic Jason and the Argonauts in 1963. Which would change the way we saw interaction with cast members and stop motion animation forever. In one scene in particular, actor Todd Armstrong battled 7 animated skeletons which took Harryhausen 3 months to set up and film.
One of Ray Harryhausen’s last film, 1981’s Clash of the Titans will always be one of my favorites. A lot of his older work was seen much later as I grew up and to be honest still stands out to me due to ingenuity of how he worked with many styles in his stop motion technique. Case in point, the 2010 remake of Clash of the Titans, it will never hold a candle to the original classic.
Even after Harryhausen stepped away from behind the scenes, he appeared in movies such as a cameo appearance in the 1998 remake of Mighty Joe Young, and voice over work in the 2003 film Elf. He penned a few books like Ray Harryhausen: An Animated Life, The Art of Ray Harryhausen, Ray Harryhausen A Life in Pictures and regularly made appearances at conventions, and film festivals.
Many people have paid homage to Harryhausen such as acclaimed director Tim Burton did in the 1996 movie Mars Attacks!, when he replicated a scene in which an alien spacecraft crashed into the Washington Monument, just like in Harryhausen’s 1956 film Earth vs. the Flying Saucers. Many production companies have snuck Harryhausen’s name into backgrounds or Easter eggs to show gratitude in what he has done for the business.
His other accomplishments in his career are extraordinary. In 1992 he was presented with an Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences Gordon E. Sawyer Award for his contributions in film. He was one of the first non literary inductees into the Science Fiction Hall of Fame, as well as a Wagner lifetime award in the British Fantasy Society. In 2003, Harryhausen was honored with a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame. And in 2010 was presented a special British Academy of Film and Television Arts award by Lord of the Rings director Peter Jackson during a tribute on Harryhausen’s career from the British Film Institute.
Before molded prosthetics, computer animation, 3D rendered characters or big Hollywood companies like DreamWorks and more recent Bad Robot Productions who are known for their characters and monsters, there was Ray Harryhausen. He paved the way and inspired a lot of directors such as James Cameron, George Lucas, Tim Burton, Steven Spielberg and Peter Jackson.
Ray Harryhausen was a pioneer and a role model. He will always be a person that will be referenced due to his credibility in film and there never will be another person like him… Ray Harryhausen died at the age of 93.
For more information on the life and work of Ray Harryhausen including the Ray and Diana Harryhausen Foundation, please visit: http://www.rayharryhausen.com/index.php
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